The Trouble With Terracotta in Bathrooms


Terracotta tile can be a beautiful and unique choice for bathroom floors and walls. However, terracotta comes with some potential drawbacks that homeowners should consider before installing it in a bathroom. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll examine the pros and cons of using terracotta tile in bathrooms and provide tips for proper installation and care to minimize problems.

What is Terracotta Tile?

Terracotta tiles are made from natural clay that is shaped and then fired at extremely high temperatures in a kiln. The firing process gives the tiles their distinct orange/red hue. Terracotta dates back centuries and was one of the first types of ceramic tile used in construction.

Some key facts about terracotta tile:

  • Made from natural clay and water, no glazes or additives
  • Has an uneven, porous surface that absorbs liquids
  • Available in various shapes, sizes, and colors
  • Has a rustic, Old World aesthetic
  • Can be left natural or sealed for varying appearances
  • More prone to damage and wear than ceramic or porcelain tile
  • Requires cautious cleaning and sealing to prevent stains

Pros of Using Terracotta Tile in Bathrooms

There are several benefits that make terracotta an attractive option for bathrooms:

Natural Material

Terracotta is an all-natural material made only from clay and water. This gives it an organic, earthy look that can enhance a bathroom’s warmth and ambiance. The handmade production process means no two tiles are exactly alike, adding to the uniqueness.

Interesting Visual Texture

The porous, uneven surface of terracotta provides visual depth and texture. The richness of the terracotta color and natural surface imperfections create dimension and character that synthetic tiles lack.

Traction Underfoot

The porous nature of terracotta gives it a natural slip resistance. The tile’s texture provides traction under bare feet, an important safety consideration for bathrooms. Sealing terracotta can reduce the slip resistance, however.

Versatile Design Options

Terracotta tile comes in a variety of earth-toned colors, from orangey reds to warm browns. Tiles can be left their natural color or sealed for a darker, enriched appearance. Sizes range from small mosaics to oversized tiles. The array of options allows for creativity and customization.


When properly sealed and cared for, terracotta tiles can last for decades. The firing process makes them more durable than air-dried clay. Their timeless, classic look does not fade in popularity.

Cons of Using Terracotta in Bathrooms

However, using terracotta tile in bathrooms also comes with some downsides to consider:

Moisture Absorption

The porousness that gives terracotta its traction also makes it prone to absorbing water. Moisture seeping into the tile can lead to staining, mildew growth, efflorescence deposits, and permanent damage over time.


The clay composition and surface porosity make terracotta highly susceptible to stubborn staining. Common bathroom products like soap, shampoo, and toothpaste can easily discolor the tiles. Dyes from rugs or bath mats can also cause permanent stains without proper sealing.

Slipperiness When Wet

Contrary to popular belief, unsealed terracotta becomes very slippery when wet. The porous surface absorbs water, causing a loss of traction. Sealing terracotta provides water resistance but can also minimize the natural slip resistance of the clay.

Harder to Clean

Terracotta’s textured surface traps dirt, debris, soap scum, and minerals. This makes it more difficult to keep clean than smoother tile surfaces. Harsh chemical cleaners cannot be used since they can react with the clay.

Not Frost-Proof

Terracotta should not be used outdoors or in cold climates. The tile is prone to cracking and spalling when exposed to repeated freeze-thaw cycles. Use frost-proof ceramic or porcelain instead for outdoor installations.

Prone to Damage

The fragility of clay makes terracotta prone to chipping, cracking, and scratching from dropped objects or abrasive cleaners. Cracks provide pathways for moisture to penetrate and cause stains or mildew. Repairing damage is difficult and often requires full tile replacement.

Tips for Installing Terracotta in Bathrooms

Careful installation is key to reducing problems with terracotta in bathrooms. Here are some best practices to follow:

  • Use a modified thinset mortar – Modified thinset contains polymers that prevent absorption into the porous terracotta back. This keeps a strong bond between tile and subfloor.
  • Seal tiles before and after grouting – Sealing before grouting prevents stains from pigments penetrating the clay. Re-seal after to fully protect tiles.
  • Grout with a flexible, stain-resistant grout -Flexible grouts allow for subtle tile movement and are less likely to crack. Use a grout with built-in stain resistance.
  • Use joint spacers for consistent grout lines – Keeping grout lines consistent looks better and prevents cracking. Spacers guide proper spacing between tiles.
  • Avoid butt joints – Stagger tiles so joints do not align, avoiding unstable butt joint alignments prone to damage.
  • Check for lippage – Due to uneven terracotta surfaces, carefully check for lippage greater than 1/16 inch and grind down high edges as needed.

Caring for Terracotta Bathroom Tile

Installed terracotta requires some special considerations to keep it looking beautiful long-term:

Seal Initial and Annually

  • Sealing is imperative to prevent staining and damage from moisture absorption.
  • Seal tiles with a penetrating sealer before and after grouting during install.
  • Re-seal annually or bi-annually depending on traffic to maintain protection.

Daily Maintenance

  • Sweep or vacuum to remove surface dust and debris.
  • Use damp mopping rather than full wet mopping. Excess water can penetrate unsealed tiles.
  • Blot spills quickly to prevent absorption. Don’t rub spill forcefully into surface.

Avoid Harsh Cleaners

  • Ammonia, bleach, acidic cleaners will react with clay and cause discoloration or etching.
  • Use mild pH neutral cleaners specially formulated for natural stone and terracotta.

Address Stains Right Away

  • Identify stain source and treat with appropriate remover as soon as possible. The longer a stain sits, the harder it is to remove from porous terracotta.

Repair Damage Promptly

  • Don’t delay fixing chips, cracks, missing grout. Moisture penetration will worsen damage over time. Address issues immediately.

FAQs About Using Terracotta in Bathrooms

Is terracotta suitable for bathroom flooring?

Terracotta can work for bathroom floors if properly sealed and cared for. The tile’s slip resistance makes it a good option compared to polished stone. Opt for a coarser finish and re-seal annually for floors.

What’s the best terracotta tile size for bathrooms?

Smaller mosaics better handle subtle floor movement compared to oversized tiles prone to cracking. Mosaics also have more grout lines that seal moisture out. Standard sizes from 4×4 inches to 8×8 inches are ideal.

Can you use terracotta tile in a shower?

Terracotta is not the best option for inside shower enclosures where tile is constantly wet. Porosity leads to excess moisture absorption that damages the clay. Use glazed ceramic or porcelain instead for shower walls.

Should terracotta tile be sealed in bathrooms?

Sealing is strongly recommended to prevent staining, mildew, efflorescence, and damage. Seal tile and grout before and after installation. Re-seal annually or bi-annually depending on traffic and exposure to moisture.

What is the best sealer for terracotta bathroom tile?

Look for a water-based penetrating sealer formulated for porous terracotta and natural stone. Penetrating sealers soak in vs. leaving a surface film that can discolor or alter traction.

How do you clean terracotta tile showers?

Use a gentle pH neutral daily cleaner after each use to prevent soap scum buildup. Apply a deep-cleaning enzymatic or oxygen bleach cleaner periodically to dissolve stubborn buildup and stains. Re-seal grout lines regularly.

Can you use terracotta tile outside in bathrooms?

No – Terracotta should never be used in exterior applications, even under a covered patio or roof. The tile lacks water resistance and is prone to freeze-thaw damage in colder climates. Opt for frost-proof porcelain instead.


Terracotta tile undeniably brings wonderful old-world charm and natural beauty to bathrooms. However, the delicate clay composition requires awareness of its vulnerabilities to moisture, staining, and damage in the wet bathroom environment. With proper installation methods, diligent sealing, gentle cleaning routines, and immediate attention to repairs, terracotta can be maintained successfully as a unique and warm design feature. Paying attention to the tile’s special needs allows you to unlock the benefits of terracotta’s rustic style while avoiding the pitfalls.